KNOW FRANK

STEPHEN SILKE

It isn’t enough to just know Frank. Frank wants to wave hello to you as you unload your groceries. And Frank says hi very often to you on your way to the store. He doesn’t just want to keep it distant either. He offers to take your mail in for you when you travel far away on vacation. And you say yes because he is also taking in the mail for your other neighbors and Frank and the neighbors agree that this is what neighbors do. In fact, Frank and his side of the street want to know when you are leaving on vacation and when you are returning because Frank and the neighbors on his side of the street all share keys to each other’s houses and want to make sure each and every one is safe and none of their homes are broken into and if for some reason something bad happens it would help if they knew the details timelines and main players in each individual situation so that the proper authorities can arrive at thorough and conscientious documentation, though Frank really is the only one of this group who ever broaches the subject directly or indirectly.

And it is clear that Frank is somewhat of a low level celebrity around the neighborhood by the way people crane their necks when driving by trying to see if he has his garage door open and if he is perhaps willing to shoot the breeze while he is perhaps laundering his undergarments or if he is perhaps lolling about on one of the chairs or benches that line the sidewalk in front of his house next to his roses under the shade from the trees he planted, or next to the bucket he keeps with a liner inside of it along with baggies for people to pick up their turds and put them into the Frank-provided bucket next to his well-maintained fence. He will dispose of the waste, no real big deal no problem don’t think anything of it—it’s a pleasure.

Plus as you talk to Frank you realize that he is very up to date on all of the new sales of homes in the neighborhood and who is beating up  whom domestic abuse-wise and where the halfway house is on the block and who should probably just move away someplace else in order to preserve the peace on the street but all the while excoriating the magnitude and chronology of every single one of these issues in between his nuanced questions about your children’s communicable diseases and the age of your aging parents as corollary to your age and when you would be getting underway on the next phase of your home improvements angled at bettering the curb appeal and general value of your home and by implication all the homes on the block where you live. Where everyday he wakes up in the morning extremely early even though he has retired at a really young age but apparently doesn’t find it interesting or important to spend time in his backyard or read perhaps a book or watch TV inside his house but instead finds more and more cosmetic or hang-out or speculative security-related reasons  to be right there on the sidewalk greeting the many passersby and learning the names of the children and the dogs in the neighborhood and offering them treats while getting a sunburn in his tank top and his running shorts with those little socks that scoop below the ankle to allow for the maximum area of the leg so as to be tanned but yet still maintain the decency that sock-wearing provides and also so as not to stink up his shoes or anything untidy like that that may be misconstrued as ungainly.

But you find yourself grating inside making fists and fingernail-raking your face because at 6 AM on Saturdays when you had planned to sleep the ringing of his high-pitched voice–strengthened and clarified by the choral ensemble he sings in and invites you to patronize every season–reverberates in the void between your houses also carrying right through your closed bedroom window especially when the noise of his voice periodically crescendos into whinnying laughter as he happens upon an unexpected info tidbit while he shoots the breeze with people who just happen to pass by. When you go away on a trip and specifically don’t tell Frank you are going and you forget and leave your garbage cans in your backyard and it dawns on you that while you were gone he opened your side gate and pulled your cans out to the curb on trash day without you even asking him to and then right after that discover a pile of periodicals and coupon advertisements which he thoughtfully stacked in reverse-chronological order behind your house within your closed privacy gate beside your back door the reason for which he mentions is so that people on the street do not see anything piling up mail-wise and think that the house is abandoned and thus rob it or otherwise violate the sanctity of the home and then you run this by your wife who laughs it off saying isn’t Frank just so great and helpful too? And you wonder what your wife talks to Frank about when you go off to work and you realize that maybe they talk for hours and maybe they have tea and sandwiches with crusts trimmed off maybe filled with cream cheese and delicately pared crudité and it dawns on you that you don’t really know Frank even though you thought you did but you really don’t and you decide that you perhaps absolutely need to not know Frank and move but your wife is so very really happy with the spirit of the neighborhood and how everyone is so thoughtful and helpful and would love to help each other conscientiously grow old right here and perhaps retire sometime soon and maybe perhaps even get a dog because Frank has a dog and this dog Frank has might get lonely and then it could be walked in tandem with your dog very often even though she knows that you hate dogs and their hair and don’t ever want to get one under any circumstances ever. And so you look over across the street again and there’s Frank who just wants to wave hello to you as you unload your groceries from the back of your compact SUV and he waves hello and you decide this time not to wave back and then he waves again and your arm just kind of shoots up on its own without you doing anything and then you come to know that he will keep waving and waving until you wave back and then you give in and wave and you are once again back in the good graces of Frank and by extension the neighborhood even if you didn’t want to and yet that is the way it should be after all in the end where everyone is happy to know you and to know Frank and you manage to get your groceries from your SUV into your cocktail cabinet, pantry and fridge, closing the louvres tight over the windows that are then covered over by twisting the tilt wand on the blinds and then sliding the double-thick drapery over it all and you keep the lights off even then so that it is impossible to see into the house from the street and then you hear a knocking at the door in an upbeat metrical pattern and you then know it isn’t enough simply to just know Frank.

Stephen Silke worked seven years in marketing before pursuing a graduate degree in creative writing at the University of Southern California. He founded an online bookselling company, which he sold in 2013 to study for his MFA at San Diego State University. His fiction has appeared in decomP magazinE, Fiction International, Le Scat Noir, pacificREVIEW, and Portland Review.

TINY SPILLS
  • Best Breakfast:
    Any variety of French baked items and coffee enjoyed en plein air at a Parisian street café.

  • Least impressive thing about you:
    Excessive weeping upon viewing a movie’s impressively choreographed action sequence (with well-placed/timed pyrotechnics).

  • What should we know:
    Your Strunk & White, baby.

  • Best book nobody talks about:
    James Lord’s biography of Alberto Giacometti, which includes metaphor, personal details, and a narrative through line. It’s so much more than a mere biography.